I read something yesterday that bothered me. A really talented photographer, who has a blog that I like to read sometimes, posted an article stating that the number one thing you can do to improve your landscape photography is to shoot RAW. His argument was, essentially, that post-processing is a necessary aspect of photography, so you might as well fully embrace it and start with a RAW file. I get that if you plan to significantly manipulate your photographs you should probably use RAW because a JPEG is limited in how far you can take it before it begins to degrade. I disagree that post-processing is always or even usually needed, and I don’t think anyone should feel like they must fully embrace it. Edit if you want, or save yourself a bunch of time and strive to get the look that you are after using the options found in your camera. Most of the time it’s possible to get the look that you want straight out of camera, no editing necessary.
Fujifilm cameras are especially great at JPEG processing. Using the different film simulations, which can be significantly customized, and the dynamic range options, it’s possible to get polished images straight out of camera that resemble edited RAW photographs. In fact, while I do some light post-processing occasionally, most of the time I do not edit my photographs whatsoever. I don’t need to! Fujifilm cameras save me so much time because they can produce really nice pictures that don’t require editing, such as the two in this article.
In the early days of digital photography, cameras had a narrow dynamic range, were not particularly good at anything above base ISO, were spotty at white balance, and weren’t programmed to make JPEGs any better than mediocre (at best), so RAW was indeed necessary. Even just 10 years ago camera-made JPEGs weren’t especially great, although on most camera brands they had improved significantly. There was a time when the “you must shoot RAW” argument was valid. It’s not 1998 or 2008 anymore, and almost all cameras are capable of making nice JPEGs. Some cameras are better than others, and that’s why I shoot Fujifilm, but almost any camera make and model manufactured over the last five or so years can make a good JPEG if you take the time to program it to your liking.
I’d much rather spend an extra moment setting the camera to what I want before capturing the image than sitting at a computer later fiddling with a RAW file. I’d rather let the camera do the work for me in the field so that I don’t have to at home. My photography doesn’t suffer for it. You wouldn’t know that my photographs are camera-made JPEGs if I didn’t tell you. I don’t know about you, but I already spend too much time sitting at a computer, so the more I can reduce that the better off I am.
Shooting RAW doesn’t make anyone a better photographer. Use RAW if you want, but it’s just a tool to achieve the results that you’re after, just as the JPEG processor in your camera is a tool to achieve desired results. Use the tool that works best for you. Don’t think that you must shoot RAW because someone doesn’t understand how to get good results without it. If the person who wrote the article took the time to set up their camera in the field, I’m sure that they could create the images they want without the need for Lightroom or Photoshop. It’s fine that the person didn’t, but I think it’s unfair to suggest that RAW is necessary for “better” photography. It’s untrue that you must embrace post-processing to create great photographs, because which format you choose has no bearing on your talent.